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'Bring them on' - Bush on Iraqi militants - Hours later more Casualties

by Olivier Knox Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 9:04 AM

President George W. Bush on Wednesday defiantly challenged militants planning strikes on US forces in Iraq to "bring them on!" even as mounting casualties eroded US public support for the occupation.

President George W. Bush on Wednesday defiantly challenged militants planning strikes on US forces in Iraq to "bring them on!" even as mounting casualties eroded US public support for the occupation.

Bush also vowed that the attacks would not force the United States to "leave prematurely," before setting Iraq on course for prosperity and democracy, and dismissed calls for deploying additional troops to the war-ravaged nation.

"We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation," he told reporters just hours before one US Marine was killed and three injured in an explosion while they were clearing a minefield near Karbala, Iraq.

The incident brought to at least 26 the number of US combat deaths since Bush delivered a highly staged speech aboard an aircraft carrier to declare major combat operations over in Iraq, following Saddam Hussein's ouster.

"There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on!" said Bush, who has blamed some of the strikes on militants loyal to the missing Iraqi leader.

"There are some who feel like that if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they're talking about, if that's the case," Bush said in firm, almost angry tones.

Taking questions after a White House event, Bush said he would welcome any offers from other nations to contribute troops to the beleaguered US effort to build a prosperous and democratic Iraq.

"We always welcome help. We're always glad to include others," he said.

"But make no mistake about it, and the enemy shouldn't make any mistake about it, we will deal with them harshly if they continue to try to bring harm to the Iraqi people."

Poll shows US tiring of Iraq occupation

Earlier, Bush received some bad news as a public opinion poll found that the US public is tiring of the occupation of Iraq and, for the first time, one survey showed most Americans believe his administration "stretched the truth" or even lied about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

A University of Maryland poll found that 52 percent of respondents said they believed Bush and his aides were "stretching the truth, but not making false statements" about Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programs.

Another 10 percent said US officials had presented "evidence they knew was false," indicated the survey. Only 32 percent said they thought the government was being "fully truthful" about the Iraqi arsenal.

"Saddam Hussein had a weapons program," Bush insisted, saying: "it's just a matter of time" until US-led forces find conclusive evidence backing up an allegation that was central to Washington's case for war.

In the run up to the March 20 invasion, the US leader had specifically alleged that Saddam had unconventional weapons — not just programs — as well as ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

But since the April 9 fall of Baghdad and Bush's May 1 declaration that Iraq was "one victory" in the war on terrorism, the United States has yet to report the discovery of any banned weapons.

The mounting death toll among US troops in Iraq, meanwhile, has helped to undermine public confidence in the US occupation.

As a result, 63 percent of the 1051 people polled now believe the US Congress should investigate intelligence agencies' reports on the alleged Iraqi arsenal, the University of Maryland survey found.

Over 50 percent believe truth was stretched

Fifty-six percent believed the US government stretched the truth or made outright false statements about Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda.

Although overall support for the war in Iraq remained high, the poll gave indications of its erosion.

Thus, the share of those who unconditionally believe the war was the right thing to do dwindled from 53 percent in early May to 46 percent in early June. Twenty-nine percent, up from 22 percent in May, now say the United States was wrong.

AFP

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